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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    House Document No. 17

    Document Title
    Virginia's Explore Park

    Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority

    Enabling Authority
    Chapter 279 Enactment Clause 2. (Regular Session, 2010)

    Executive Summary
    The Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority ("VRFA"), a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1986, is responsible for the operation of Virginia’s Explore Park, an 1,100-acre facility in Roanoke and Bedford counties – 700 acres in Roanoke County and 400 in Bedford County – adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway and bisected by the Roanoke River. Virginia’s Explore Park operated as an outdoor living history museum and recreation park from 1994 to 2007, when it was closed in anticipation of a lease agreement with a developer. The current economic climate precluded execution of this agreement and the VRFA has created an alternate plan for development, which is the purpose of this document.

    In addition to its acres of rolling hills, deep ravines, and pastoral meadows so typical of the Ridge and Valley Region of Virginia, Explore Park has developed water and septic systems to serve the public and constructed or reassembled over 20 historic and modern facilities. A 1.5-mile spur road connects the Park to the Blue Ridge Parkway. State roads leading into the service entrance to the Park were upgraded in the early 1990s. The Park property also includes internal road systems and trails. The total public and private investment to date is almost $52,000,000.

    Having this extensive infrastructure in place provides the framework for future development and creative public-private partnerships. It also sets the stage to welcome new venues that may very well become Explore Park’s formula for success by adding significant value to Explore Park as an investment decision and as an attraction focused on driving economic and tourism development in the region.

    The Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority is motivated to make Explore Park a success and accepts the challenge to move it forward to serve the needs of citizens and the visiting public. The seeds for the development of a major attraction have been planted at Virginia’s Explore Park and now it’s time to move along to the next phase, where the potential for self-sustainability may be realized. The Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority is seeking to solidify its partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia to take Virginia’s Explore Park to the next level—a level that ensures success as a visitor destination, protects the Park’s investors, and contributes importantly to the economic health of this region.

    In the present economic environment, we do not believe that an exclusively private or public sector management model is feasible or realistic if the Park is to be operated for expanded public recreational purposes. The public and private investments made in the Park, and the assets conserved in the Park, will be best managed by those closest to the Park itself. We believe the Commonwealth of Virginia should be a partner in this project; no one assumes, however, that the Commonwealth is ready to step in and fund development and operation of a full-service Park.

    The new vision for Explore Park is to be a leader in providing outdoor recreation opportunities, stewardship of this region’s heritage, and advocacy for environmental conservation for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of present and future generations. Virginia’s Explore Park will be the region’s first choice for unique and memorable meeting and social event facilities, lodging, premier recreation venues and events, and inspiring educational programs.

    The VRFA will gradually phase in programs and services based on a sound business model approach, the success of each phase, and available resources and opportunities.

    By capitalizing on specialized programming and unique outdoor recreational opportunities, the VRFA will position the Park to maximize its natural setting.

    The VRFA is poised and ready to reinvent Virginia’s Explore Park by creating a new way of doing business, focusing on the assets already created and expanding private business opportunities to develop new amenities, programs, and services. The goal is to create business opportunities for individuals, developers, and businesses to utilize existing facilities or develop new venues while generating lease or percentage fee revenue to operate the Park. The VRFA will chart the future of Explore Park by determining what public-private partnerships we engage in the future.

    The Park that is developed will protect the natural and historical assets of the site while remaining a positive investment opportunity for the private sector. The private sector's investments in the Park must fit within an overall Park master plan that ensures a high-quality visitor experience that is authentic to the region and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

    The VRFA will use the leasing process, Requests for Proposals, and the PPEA process to seek out concessionaires, developers, and outfitters who will pay a lease and/or a percentage of gross revenue for the venues and opportunities created.

    The potential for future growth at Virginia’s Explore Park is limited only by the imagination and the resources available to take the Park to its next level of development. The infrastructure is in place and the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority Board of Directors is ready to begin.

    The Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority respectfully requests that the Commonwealth of Virginia endorse, encourage, and support our dedication, motivation, and passion for continuing to operate and make Virginia’s Explore Park a success for our citizens and tourists and an economic driver for western Virginia and the Commonwealth.

    Virginia’s Explore Park is a true asset of the Commonwealth of Virginia that should be afforded a degree of protection by the government that breathed life into it almost 24 years ago. The Park’s stakeholders also need to have an active role in its management. For these reasons, the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority asks the Commonwealth’s consideration of the following (listed in more detail on page 37):

    1. Recognize that the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority has operated and continues to operate Virginia’s Explore Park in accordance with the Code of Virginia, to the extent that no further legislative extensions of the "reversion clause" of 10.1-1618 should be necessary.

    2. Give Roanoke County, Explore Park’s largest local government investor, voting representation on the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority Board of Directors based on its financial participation and in-kind support.

    3. Move Virginia’s Explore Park from the non-state agency status to a line item in the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s budget to remove Explore Park from the instability of non-state agency status.

    4. Consider investing in capital development venues and revenue-producing programs at Virginia’s Explore Park.

    5. Allow Virginia departments to assist in creating and soliciting proposals for development of public/private projects and provide technical assistance for project development.